What has caught my interest lately is the Education Policy Institute’s review of the pay comparison between the retail and early years sectors. It makes upsetting reading for anyone trying to upskill their workforce.
Early years education is not the easy career path. It is not a job that you stop thinking about when you clock off. It mirrors the recruitment and retention crisis in teaching. One in five teachers expects to leave the classroom in less than two years, (National Education Union, April 2019) – and teachers have a national pay scale.
It astounds me that developing the early years workforce is so poorly thought through. The argument is so obvious I can barely put it into words, but I will try.
The youngest in our society are by definition vulnerable. If you accept this premise, then you must accept that they must be in the care of somebody suitable and experienced. That person must ensure safeguards are in place. You would expect that carer to be qualified and valued. You would base their salary on factors including: their level of qualification, experience, their responsibility, the hours they work and the expectation of unpaid research and study.
Think about someone who works in retail and someone who works in a nursery and make a comparison – how on earth do we get away with placing so little value on our childcare workforce?
As costs rise for settings (especially small ones) and fees become unaffordable for families on a normal household income, where can it go from here? Nurseries cannot afford to pay their staff much more than the minimum wage for fear of closure, and as a young entrant to the profession (with all the associated demands on their time – such as having a social life) is it really worth the extra £17 a week that could be picked up by doing a couple of hours of overtime?
Is it really such a surprise that recruitment and retention depend on vocation? And surely it’s a bit suspect that we rely on an individual’s motivation in order to pay them poorly for a job more demanding and accountable than most others.
Please, let’s have a bit of vision in Government policy – rather than offering free sessions, funded at an unsustainable rate, to win votes, let’s look properly and honestly at wages, status and qualifications in the early years and take the opportunity to make it a profession that people aspire to enter.